Reader Request: Guidelines for Tucking

when should i tuck my shirt

Reader Elizabeth sent me this question via e-mail:

… lots of curvier women tuck in their tops, which feels totally daring and, frankly, scary to me, but they look fantastic. While I know it can be frumpy, I usually leave tails out in an effort to get some flowyness (is that a word?) going and gloss over my belly. Could you talk about the way tucking in tops or leaving them out affects proportion, and what it helps to emphasize (or not)?

When it comes to tucking, I believe the three main factors are proportion, desired aesthetic, and comfort.


Tucking a top into pants or a skirt alters your perceived silhouette. If you’re wearing low-rise pants and want to create a long-torsoed look, tucking your shirt may help. Since the pant waistband falls below the natural waistline, tucking fools the observing eye into thinking that the waist point has moved downward. If you’re wearing a high-waisted skirt and want to shorten your torso visually, tucking will work toward that end. High-waisted bottoms put the perceived waistline higher than it occurs naturally, so women who are self-conscious about their lower abs/bellies often gravitate toward them. With the emphasis moved upward, the tum is downplayed.

Desired aesthetic

Some outfits look more polished and finished if a top is worn tucked in. Some outfits feel more natural and complete if a top is worn untucked. In my experience, tucking a top fully into a skirt or pair of pants creates formal, retro, and curve-hugging looks. Wearing tops untucked feels more casual, modern, and curve-skimming. Unfortunately, there aren’t any truly useful “rules” when it comes to tucking. Each outfit is different!


Tucking generally brings tops closer to the torso than leaving them untucked does. If you’re gonna feel self-conscious and anxious all day with a tucked top, skip it! Find a top that works worn untucked instead. Yes, it’s true that some outfits will just look better if the top is tucked in. Doesn’t mean you have to wear those outfits. Or, at least, doesn’t mean you have to wear them this second. Play around with half-tucks, belting untucked layers, and other methods for adjusting the fit of your top. Work your way up to tucking, but don’t force it before you’re ready.

Originally posted 2012-09-21 06:05:21.

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28 Responses to “Reader Request: Guidelines for Tucking”

  1. Sandy a la Mode

    great tips on tucking!!! i usually like to go for the half tucked look haha. like one side of it tucked into pants/skirt and the other hanging loose. i guess it’s more of a casual, “i’m not trying” kind of look!

    so great to hang out with you yesterday!!

    Sandy a la Mode

    • Sal

      Ah, yes, the half-tuck! I am yet to master it myself. đŸ˜‰ Great to meet you, too, Sandy!

      • Aging fashionista

        I like that look in j. Crew ads etc but never feel like I can do it right. Do
        You have any links to pics of real women doing this without looking like they didn’t finish getting dressed?

  2. Joules

    As a rule I typically don’t tuck; I dislike the feeling of that much fabric bunched up against my skin. On the upside, I have a short torso and being too lazy to tuck (or just wearing a slew of mini dresses) works really well for me.

  3. Cynthia

    I totally feel more self-conscious about my belly in a lot of high-waisted things, especially pants. They seem to emphasize it, while also making my top half look disproportionately short. If I get a pair of pants that sits and can be belted in that perfect hip-line place right below my navel, I’m happy as a clam. I’ll wear skirts at my waist with a tucked top if they can be belted with one of my heavy hardware belts that doesn’t depend on being pulled tight to stay in place.

  4. Elizabeth

    I rarely tuck. It is partially about being body conscious and partially about comfort.

    As a compromise, I just recently started trying out belts overtop to emphasize my waist. I am still on that journey!

  5. Brigitte

    I would suggest to the email writer to reconsider leaving the tails of a shirt un-tucked. I just can’t imagine a situation or outfit where it wouldn’t be better to either let it loose or all tucked in. I could see it could be different with a t-shirt, something casually pulled in on the front to show a cool belt maybe, but a shirt, like a button-down shirt? Nah… I think the best way to achieve a similar bum-camouflage feat would be to wear a shirt fully tucked in (even in the back!!) and then to wear an open blazer or cardigan on top that would cover the back.

    But the half-tuck? I’d be curious to see what a successful outfit using that method would look like…

  6. Kirsten

    I always tuck. For me growing up, that was the societal expectation to look neat. But now even when people look great untucked, I find I get cold if I attempt to go untucked. I just can’t tolerate the feel of air around my midriff. Weird?

  7. Linda L

    I almost always tuck, but then I have a small waist and relatively flat stomach and bigger thighs – so I feel a need to emphasize the small part of me. Also, being short, it’s hard to find tops that don’t fall too low on my hips and draw that line right across the widest part of me. I do have a few petite button front shirts that are a good length to leave untucked and feel fine about doing that as long as they are tapered at the waist.

  8. Dee

    Wow, I cant remember the last time I tucked in a top — for the most part I wear lightweight sweaters, or tanks with a jacket or cardigan. I have a large waist and trying to fit more around my waist and still zip up my skirt or pants is tough. Not to mention all that extra fabric bunching up, and I would always be fussing with it all day – am I tucked in properly?, etc. I think if I had a smaller waist I would not mind tucking. Many of you younger folk may not recall but wearing shirts and tops “out” (ie untucked) was not really fashionable, or considered appropriate at work,until maybe 10 -15 years ago, except for a heavy sweater or cardigan but certainly not tees or blouses. You tucked and wore a belt through belt loops, anything else looked messy and too casual. Needless to say I was very happy when the untucked top became stylish. For me its much more flattering and comfortable.

    • Anne

      I grew up that way too. Even with jeans and tennies you tucked in your shirt and wore a belt. Now I do a variety of different things when it comes to tucking in tops .I don’t think I have any hard and fast rules now, other than doing what looks best on any given day.

  9. HM

    I stay untucked most of the time. I usually wear a sweater over a short sleeved shirt. I have to tuck if the shirt is rounded and the cardigan is shorter and flat across the bottom. I wear longer cardigans to go at least to the bottom of the shirt.

  10. Queen Lucia

    I started tucking a few years ago – I thought I never would, with my figure. I am petite, apple shaped, with a large bust and a smaller (but short) waist (if that makes sense). Sometimes it’s hard to find tops that fit my chest but don’t engulf me everywhere else, so tucking really helps. I tend to keep my top half stream-lined and tailored and my bottom half fuller, either in shape or with color. And when I don’t tuck, I still try emphasize my waist with a wrap blouse, belt, men’s-style vest or short sweater. When I don’t, I make sure that whatever I’m wearing on top isn’t bulky, but very tailored or streamlined (challenging to find for curvier gals) and not flowy at all.

  11. Heather

    I almost never tuck. Sometimes I feel inspired by one of Sally’s outfits to try it, but I never feel happy with the result. I have broad shoulders but small bust and waist and a short torso, and when I try to tuck a button front shirt there’s all this extra fabric blousing around. Maybe someday I’ll get around to getting shirts tailored so they actually fit…

  12. D

    I hate tucking, and I will not do it. I think this stems from my discomfort with having all of that fabric bunched up around my skin and from my tiny rebellion against all the times my parents made me tuck in my shirt as a kid. I feel like I can get away with it because I have a short torso, and I don’t own anything high waisted.

    I’ve tried to try it recently, but I just never like the way the outfits turn out.

  13. Jessica

    For a long time I’ve avoiding tucking — I have a large bust and try to keep my top half pretty long to de-emphasize it. I usually go for tops that are looser at the bust and waist, and fit close at the hips. Lately however I’ve had some successes with tucking that have been pretty liberating. First, the half-tuck is so in right now, and I find it’s a great way to add shape when I’m wearing a long loose top with slim pants or shorts. I also recently fell in love with a thrifted blouse that is completely unlike anything I have ever owned, and for my body it is a must-tuck. I find that this does work for me when I wear pants that fit a bit low and loose, as mentioned in the post, still creating the long torso I want.

  14. FutureLint

    I don’t usually tuck things in – I’m busty for how short I am and it just doesn’t look the best on me usually. But, since I am shorter and with a short torso to boot, a lot of shirts are too long on me. So I’m a big fan of the knot in front. Gets the too-long tops in the right spot without tucking and adds a bit of casualness to oxfords. I’m a big fan of the knot.

  15. Liz

    I am an H shape – almost no tucking here! (and no belts) I, too, was relieved when being “untucked” became acceptable. I look for items that look neat even when not tucked in.

    • Becky

      Me too, Liz. I never tuck, and it’s all about proportion. I also have a very short waist; if I tuck in a shirt, my boobs appear to be sitting on top of my waistband. Not the cutest look. I’ve always known that tucked-in tops don’t flatter me, but it took till I was 42 to understand why!

      Until untucking became acceptable, I was all about the jumpers and the overalls. Actually I started untucking when it was still considered “messy” and “sloppy,” because I just looked so much better with my “shirt-tail out” as the teachers used to say. Glad those days are behind us.

  16. GingerR

    I think you might try a post that identifies tops that are designed for tucking and those that aren’t.

    A button front blouse with a curved hem that’s straight through the hips will tuck better than a button front blouse that has a square hem and flares from the waist. The same blouse will be a poor not-tucked item because it’s too slim through the hip to button over pants/skirt and not long enough to cover up a rear-end.

    Some readers’ unhappiness with tucking and bunched up fabric may be due to the design of the item they’re working with.

  17. shebolt

    I avoided tucking until very recently, and for me, it’s all about the fabric of the shirt. If it’s a stiffer fabric, like a cotton button-down, I refuse to tuck. If I try to tuck those shirts, inevitably I reach for something and half my shirt pulls out enough to poof in an unflattering way. No, not a cool “half tuck”. I have yet to successfully pull that one off.

    Heck, some shirts are so stiff that simply the action of tucking them causing part of them to pull out and poof badly. Maybe I’m just spastic.

    As for proportion, if I’m wearing a low-rise bottom I feel like anything tucked just looks wrong. I have a small and somewhat long torso, so if my bottoms are too low, I feel like my thin torso gets lost and my hips get emphasized. Not good.

    However, if the blouse is a more free flowing fabric, it continues to drape nicely over my skirt or pants, no matter what I do.

    I’m also very conscious of the hem of the shirt. If I get a clear “hem line dimple” through my skirt or pants, I won’t tuck. Period.

  18. Shaye

    My general rule is, tuck if the bottom piece is full or natural/high-waisted, let it hang if the bottom piece is slim or low-waisted. This means I usually tuck into skirts and almost never tuck into pants. But I have “extreme curves” from waist to hip, and this the silhouette that works best on me. People with a less defined waist probably don’t have such hard and fast rules. At least I almost never waver on whether to tuck or not on my outfits these days!

  19. Anne @ The Frump Factor

    I never tuck. I feel it draws attention to my thick waistline and (relative) lack of hips. I also remember, in the bad old days when I used to tuck, the shirts always looked sloppy, bunched up and/or untucked in a matter of minutes. I always wondered if there was something about my proportions that made this happen, or if it happens to everybody.

  20. Marie

    I never tuck, and I only buy shirts that will work untucked. One thing I’ve never understood – when you sit down, doesn’t your shirt pull out some at the back, then when you stand up again it’s bunched up? Maybe that doesn’t happen with high-waisted bottoms, but for lower waistlines it definitely does. That’s one of reasons I avoid tucking, my shirt gets bunched up and sticks out at my midsection. Gives me memories of the 90’s…

  21. Heidi/The Closet Coach

    I rarely tuck, for most of the reasons others have mentioned.

    In addition to the factors you listed, Sal, one that decides tuck-vs-not for me is shirt length. Sometimes you just don’t have the option of tucking in!

  22. Lainie

    I tuck in IF I am wearing a highwaisted skirt, a belted skirt, or a button up shirt. If I am feeling “poochy” then I wear a cardigan or a blazer over that.
    I think it looks more professional, and also since I do like a “retro” look, it fits. Untucked-I like knits and sweaters.